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  • Provenance

    Metro Pictures, New York
    SAKS, Geneve
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I don’t want to make art that will pat you on the back and tell you everything is going to be okay. I want to make something that’s much more confronting.” ROBERT LONGO

    “I think I make art for brave eyes.” ROBERT LONGO

    Untitled (Long Tou) is a work from the series of monumental charcoal drawings called The Sickness of Reason by Robert Longo. Each work in the series depicts a nuclear test explosion, the imagery derived from grainy black and white newspaper photographs of the Cold War era. The billowing mushroom clouds, rendered with an intense richness of texture, lift the images out of mere reportage and render them as visions of the world’s end, spectacles after which “no further images can come” (Robert Longo, Werner Spies The Glass Message, New York, 2010, p. 13). The artist simultaneously engages with the catastrophic and the sublime – as Longo says, the bombs “exist at the moment of their being … they are at the moment of their fulfilment” (Robert Longo, Caroline Smulders, An Hour with Robert Longo, New York, 2010, p. 33). The bombs also reflect the contemporary dichotomy between the deep fears they generate and the technological and political aspirations of contemporary civilization they represent. Of Longo’s work in general, the critic Éric Troncy has written, “Longo is a painter of catastrophes, a tragedian of the absolute whose every image aims at the outset to tap into the dark energy of the world” (Eric Troncy Robert Longo, Hard Drive, New York, 2010).

    Untitled (Long Tou) is a supreme example of Longo’s charcoal drawing technique. It clearly demonstrates not only the sheer physicality but also the extreme subtleties of Longo’s mark making. In the words of Hal Foster, it shows “not only the labour involved in the process but the vision that deepens during it” (Hal Foster, ‘The American Friend’, in Robert Longo, Charcoal, Osfildern-Ruit, 2012, p. 24). In The Sickness of Reason series, each of Longo’s drawings emerge out of a photographic snapshot, revealing that the “world has become photogenic”, not simply informed by photography, but invariably adjusting to it (ibid.). This is also the difference between the immediate and mediated, and here Longo’s aesthetic is similar to that of Gerhard Richter’s early paintings, fashioned and directed by the photographs which are their subject.

    In Longo’s drawings, a heavy layer of charcoal is rubbed into white paper by hand, generating a velvety, tactile surface. A dense, rich and impenetrable darkness envelopes the drawing. Longo uses an assortment of charcoals ranging in density and tone to realise the intense chiaroscuro and various types of erasers to manipulate and sculpt the drawing’s surface to expose “just enough light to make the dark seem darker still” (ibid.).

    Longo’s nuclear blasts in Untitled (Long Tou) and in The Sickness of Reason depicts a “man-made sublime”, and present a powerful vision of a world unhinged (ibid.). Not only does the title of the series recall Francisco Goya’s series of etchings called The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (circa 1797), it also echoes the struggle between light and dark forces. Like Goya’s prints, Longo’s drawings can be viewed as meditations on Enlightenment and its pitfalls. Untitled (Long Tou) scrutinizes a humanity
    gone bad, on the brink of self-obliteration, “the gift of reason put perversely to the goal of utter destruction” (ibid.).

9

Untitled (Long Tou)

2008
charcoal on mounted paper
243.8 x 177.8 cm (95 7/8 x 70 in)
Signed and dated 'Robert Longo 08' lower right.

Estimate
£150,000 - 250,000 

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

10 October 2012
London